UPDATE: August 17, 2020: Chief Judge Christopher Sontchi of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the District of Delaware on Friday approved the $325 million sale of Brooks Brothers to Sparc Group, the 50-50 venture of Simon Property Group and Authentic Brands Group. The closing date is set for Aug. 31, according to court documents.
Brooks Brothers on Tuesday said it's asking a bankruptcy judge to approve the sale of "the vast majority" of its global business operations and intellectual property to Simon Property Group and Authentic Brands Group, after the companies upped their initial stalking horse bid by $20 million to $325 million.
As part of the agreement, the commercial property developer and the brand conglomerate, which have formed a "50-50 joint venture" called "Sparc Group," have committed to keeping open at least 125 Brooks Brothers stores, according to a Brooks Brothers press release.
If the deal wins court approval at a Friday hearing, it could close by the end of the month, subject to closing conditions and regulatory approval.
If this acquisition goes through, it will be yet another play by Sparc Group that could prevent at least some store closures.
It's become something of a habit for Simon and ABG. The two companies (with mall owner Brookfield) partnered to scoop up Aeropostale in 2016 and Forever 21 last year. As "Sparc," in addition to their bid for Brooks Brothers, they have bid on Lucky Brand and are reportedly mulling a takeover of J.C. Penney, all in bankruptcy at the moment.
And both Sparc entities would gain from the deal: Simon can preserve leases that may have otherwise gone by the wayside, as leases often do during the Chapter 11 process, and ABG adds yet another iconic brand to its portfolio.
And the 202-year-old brand does have strength. The retailer gave Ralph Lauren his start in the business, and has made some effort to keep up with the times, tapping Zac Posen as creative director of its women's collection and leveraging its store network for fulfillment years ago. After spending time owned by U.K. retail giant Marks & Spencer, the brand was bought by Retail Brand Alliance in 2001 for less than a third of its previous price. But the label since then has had the benefit of having a chief executive, Claudio Del Vecchio, who cares about it.
But Brooks Brothers is also in need of rehabilitation, and it's an open question whether Sparc's combined talents are up to addressing the weaknesses that brought it to bankruptcy court last month — above all the mounting disregard for the classic men's apparel that is its specialty.
"Men's fashion seems to be at the epicenter of awful. Between casual all-days and waist-up 'zoom-grooming,' the industry doesn't have much to celebrate," retail consultant Sanford Stein, author of "Retail Schmetail," said in an email, in which he called Brooks Brothers "stuck in time."